I’m having a hard time shaking the feeling that this was more about the Celtics playing horrible basketball than anything else. Credit the Raptors for earning the win, but this was the worst I’ve seen Boston play all season. And I watched every second of its loss to an Eric Gordon-less Hornets team.

The difference in energy was evident from the tip. With the Celtics coming off an emotionally and physically draining overtime loss against the Lakers, Toronto attacked early with crisp passes and a hop in its collective step. Jose Calderon and James Johnson led the way, combining for 16 of the Raptors’ first 20 points. Boston helped out by turning the ball over, walking through its offensive sets, and providing little resistance in the paint. The Raptors raced out to a 25-9 lead. I hate simplifying like this, but it was essentially over at that point. A Mickael Pietrus corner three made it 26-14 after one, and Boston never seriously threatened after that.

Calderon was the most important Raptor, finishing with 17 points on 7-12 shooting and 14 assists. In the first quarter, Jack Armstrong talked about howplaying heavy minutes in a compressed season has made it hard for Calderon to get his legs under him. Tonight, that wasn’t an issue. I’m sure I’ll never type this again: he looked younger than Rajon Rondo in this game. He got into the paint when he wanted to, and when the Celtics’ defense broke down, he was able to find his teammates for easy finishes. The Celtics’ defense broke down a lot.

DeMar DeRozan led the team in scoring with 21 and he did it efficiently: 7-13 from the field, 7-7 from the line. It’s always great to see DeRozan being aggressive and getting calls. To my eyes, he’s picking his spots a lot better over the last few games. It’s great to be back at that point where you expect every midrange jumper of his to go in, too.

Did you catch DeRozan’s lefty hook over Garnett in the third quarter? I freaked out. That was a tough shot and he’s now made a few impressive plays with his left hand over the past week. Guess he’s been working on it.

Linas Kleiza continues to make little sense. He looked awful in the second quarter, but hit three threes in the fourth, proving a valuable zone-buster. Amir Johnson didn’t miss from the field and had a double-double without any plays called for him. James Johnson’s two blocks early in the fourth were fun. Aaron Gray grabbed 11 rebounds!

I miss Jerryd Bayless. There was no way the Celtics should have been in this game with how they were playing, yet a comeback felt like a possibility when Anthony Carter was out there. I actually like that Carter is on this roster, but the offense stagnated like crazy when he was in charge. The -15 in 10:40 was not a fluke. Also, I’ve been more forgiving with Rasual Butler than just about anyone I know in Toronto — he was brought in to provide veteran leadership and set an example on defense, that’s it — but I must admit something: when he fired up a three on the wing with 17 seconds on the shot clock and no rebounders on the inside, I wanted to break something. Carter and Butler combined to shoot 0-7 from the field.

The Raptors didn’t play a great game. They only made five of their 19 threes and there were stretches where they looked even sloppier than Boston. Still, they beat a more talented opponent. They came out with the proper intensity to take advantage of a tired team. They build the quick lead they needed and the Celtics could never climb out of that hole. Let’s see what happens against an angry Lakers team on Sunday.

 

Some Celtics notes:

  • This particular game did nothing for my “Rondo was snubbed for the All-Star Game” argument. In 40 minutes, he shot 2-10 and had five turnovers to go along with his seven assists. He’s usually one of my favorite players to watch. Tonight, it was painful. He was passive, obviously tired, and I think his wrist might still be affecting him. I wouldn’t pin the loss on him, but I do think he could have made a big difference in the first quarter by putting some pressure on the Raptors’ defense.
  • I’ve scarcely seen Doc Rivers as furious as he was in the first quarter. Peeved at how the team failed to execute out of a timeout with just over three minutes to go, he called another timeout just seven seconds into the possession and stormed onto the court, screaming at his guys. It was 20-7 at that point. If that was meant to get his team engaged, it didn’t work.
  • Kevin Garnett gave DeRozan a little shove/bump in the fourth quarter after a whistle. DeRozan had a few words and a smile for the future Hall of Famer, secure in the fact that his team was headed for a win. I enjoyed this.
  • Garnett was the Celtics’ best player, with 17 points, eight rebounds, and a few nice passes from the high-post. The team also looked completely different defensively with him on the bench. The Chris Wilcox/JaJuan Johnson frontline absolutely cannot get major minutes against good teams.
  • It was weird watching Ray Allen and Paul Pierce look so slow coming off screens.
  • Avery Bradley played only seven minutes, but perhaps should have played more. He played his brand of pressure defense and briefly bothered Calderon more than Rondo did all night. He’s still a major work in progress offensively; if he comes around on that end, he will be a way above average backup guard.

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